The Virgin Mary, the vine, and the cluster of grapes

Theotokion.
Feast of the Removal of the Relics of St John Chrysostom (January 27). Source.

O THEOTOKOS, thou art the true vine which put forth the fruit of life. We beg thee: O Lady, with the Hierarch and with all the saints, entreat that our souls may find mercy.

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A cluster of grapes at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. © Rob Farrow, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.

A cluster of grapes at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. © Rob Farrow, Geograph. Licensed for reuse. Click for original.

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THIS is not a reference to John 15:1-8, where Jesus calls himself the true vine. It is a reference to Num 13:1-25, and the fruitful vines of the land of Canaan. When the Israelites were ready to enter the promised land of Canaan, God told them to send scouts ahead to see whether the land was wholesome or not. A cluster of grapes was cut from the vines growing there as proof of the unusual fertility of the land (Num 13:1-25).

The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” … When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes.

Numbers 13:1, 23

So it is that in the Akathist Hymn, Mary is the true, the genuine vine (as opposed to the vines of Canaan), and Jesus is the cluster of grapes cut from it.

WE sing your praises, crying, ‘Hail! chariot of the spiritual Sun; true Vine that has produced the ripe Cluster of grapes, from which there flows a wine making glad the souls of the faithful, as they give you glory.

Christ is the first fruits of our life to come in the Kingdom of heaven, which is our promised land. From Mary, we gather Christ as proof of God’s love, his great mercy on our souls, and of the blessedness which awaits us across Jordan. From these grapes was trodden out upon the Cross the wine of the Eucharist, “making glad the souls of the faithful”, which we taste in an anticipation of the unending wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9, Lk 22:15-18).

The scouts reported that the fortified cities of the Canaanite people looked strong and alarming. That might, I suppose, be taken to remind us that there is work to be done in battling against the passions and little idols which we want to be cleared from our souls. But we do not need to be in doubt, because this is God’s purpose for each of us and he will see it done.

WHEN you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.

Numbers 33:51-53.

The Divine Liturgy in Scriptural Quotations

NO eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor 2:9)

He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, (2 Pet 1:4) marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Cor 13:12)

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps 13[14]:1) I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. (Job 19:25-26)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn 3:2)

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The Little Entrance, before the reading of the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy

“Stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15) The Little Entrance, before the reading of the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy.

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SO then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thess 2:15)

Test everything. Hold on to the good. (1 Thess 5:21) What you heard from the Apostles, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 1:13) Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (Eph 4:14)

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God, who came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)

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SEEK first his kingdom and his righteousness (Mt 6:33). Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, (1 Thess 5:17) saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Luke 18:13) Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:19-20)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name, (Heb 13:15) giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Col 1:12)

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HOW can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? (Ps 115[116]:12)

You have no need of my goodness. (Ps 15[16]:2 LXX) We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty. (Lk 17:10) The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Ps 147:11) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 50[51]:17)

He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ (1 Cor 11:25)

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. (Ps 115[116]:13)

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Celebrating the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, on the occasion when relics of St Seraphim of Sarov came to the Monastery of St Augustine of Hippo and St Seraphim in Trikorfo Fokidas, Greece

“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps 116:13) Celebrating the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, on the occasion when relics of St Seraphim of Sarov came to the Monastery of St Augustine of Hippo and St Seraphim in Trikorfo Fokidas, Greece

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I LOOKED, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (Apoc 7:9)

WHO may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? (Ps 23[24]:3) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 7:21)

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 Jn 3:23)

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart. (Ps 23[24]:3-4) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Ps 51:10) Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8)

First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Mt 5:24) I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” — and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Ps 31[32]:5) I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O Lord. (Ps 25[26]:6) Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. (Ps 42[43]:4)

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Elder Ephrem, Abbot of the Vatopaidi monastery, affectionately greets a fellow monk

“And this is his command: to love one another as he commanded us.” (1 John 3:23) Elder Ephrem, Abbot of the Vatopaidi monastery, affectionately greets a fellow monk

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SUDDENLY the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come. (Mal 3:1)

Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in, (Ps 23[24]:9) a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek, (Ps 109[110]:4) a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven; (Heb 8:1) he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. (Heb 9:12)

For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. (Heb 9:24) Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Heb 7:25)

Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom. (Lk 23:42)

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I PRAY to you, O Lord, in the time of your favour. (Ps 68[69]:13)

An angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. (Apoc 8:4)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. (Heb 12:1)

Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven. (Lam 3:41)

All my grandfather’s descendants deserved nothing but death from my lord the king, but you gave your servant a place among those who eat at your table. So what right do I have to make any more appeals to the king? (2 Kgs [2 Sam] 19:28) So he said to them, … “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (Jn 16:23-24)

I POUR out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. (Ps 141[142]:2) For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. (Ps 87[88]:3) Do not be far from me, trouble is near and there is no one to help. (Ps 21[22]:11)

All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him. I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves. So I looked for him but did not find him. (Cant 3:1-2)

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! (Lk 24:5-6) It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon. (Lk 24:34)

FOR you who revere my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. (Mal 4:2) Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart. (Rom 10:6-8)

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:51, 56)

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SOVEREIGN Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. (Lk 2:29-32)

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47)

Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Ps 125[126]:2-3)

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. (vv5-6)

A love letter from God

An icon of the return of the prodigal son

“His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

This was in Briefing News yesterday.

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MY child.

You may not know me, but I know everything about you. Ps 139:1 [Hebrew numbering]
I know when you are sitting down, and when you are standing up. v2
I know every step you take. v3
Even the hairs of your head are numbered. Mt 10:29-31
Because you were made in my image. Gen 1:27
In me you live, move, and have your being. Acts 17:28

I knew you even before you were formed in your mother’s womb. Jer 1:4-5
I chose you when I planned creation. Eph 1:4-6
You were not a mistake. All your days are written in my book. Ps 139:16
I set the precise time of your birth, and where you were to live. Acts 17:26

Because you were fearfully and wonderfully made. I formed you in the womb of your mother. Ps 139:13-16
And it was I who brought you into the world on the day you that were born. Ps 71:6
People who do not know me have been misrepresenting me. Jn 8:41-44
I am not distant and angry, but am the absolute expression of love. 1 Jn 4:16

And it is my desire to overwhelm you with my love. 1 Jn 3:1
Simply because you are my child, and I am your Father. 1 Jn 3:1
I offer you more than your fleshly father could ever offer you. Mt 7:11
I am the perfect Father. Mt 5: 48
Every good gift that you receive comes from my own hand. Jas 1:17

Because I am your breadwinner, and take care of all your needs. Mt 6:31-33
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope. Jer 29:11
Because I love you with a love that is eternal. Jer 31:3
My thoughts concerning you are innumerable as the grains of sand on the shore. Ps 139:17-18
And I am glad for you with songs. Zeph 3:17

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The sands on the west coast of the island of Iona, at one time Scotland’s Mount Athos. © Adam Ward, Geograph. Licensed for reuse.

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.” The sands on the west coast of the island of Iona, at one time Scotland’s Mount Athos. © Adam Ward, Geograph. Licensed for reuse.

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I will never stop doing good to you. Jer 32:40
For you are my treasured possession. Ex 19:5
I want to plant you firmly, with all my heart and all my soul. Jer 32:41
If you look for me with all your heart, you will find me. Dt 4:29
Look for your happiness in me, and I shall give you what your heart is longing for. Ps 37:4
Because I am the one who gave you those longings. Phil 2:13

I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine. Eph 3:20
Because I am your biggest supporter. 2 Thess 2:16-17
I am also the Father who comforts you in all your difficulties. 2 Cor 1:3-4
When you are in trouble, I am beside you. Ps 34:18
As a shepherd carries a lamb, I carry you close to my heart. Is 40:11
One day I will wipe every tear from your eyes. Rev 21:3-4
And I shall take far away all the pain you suffered on this earth. Rev 21:4

I am your Father, and I love you like I love my son, Jesus. Jn 17:23
Because in Jesus my love for you is revealed. Jn 17:26
And he came to prove that I am with you, and not against you. Rom 8:31
And to tell you that I am not keeping a running record of your sins. 2 Cor 5:18-19

Jesus died so that you and I might be reconciled. 2 Cor 5:18-19
His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you. 1 Jn 4:10
I gave up what I loved most, so that I might win your love. Rom 8:32
If you accept the gift of my son Jesus, you are accepting me. 1 Jn 2:23
And nothing will ever separate you from my love. Rom 8:38-39

Come home, and I will throw the grandest party heaven has ever seen. Lk 15:7
I have always been Father, and I will always be Father. Eph 3:14-15
My question is: Will you be my child? Jn 1:12-13
I am waiting for you. Lk 15:11-32

With love, your Father
Almighty God.

Source. My emphases are not all the same as in the original.

Open our eyes to the Gospel

SHINE into our hearts, O Master, who lovest mankind, the pure light of thy divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds to a spiritual understanding of thy gospel message.

Fix within us reverence for thy blest commandments, that, treading down fleshly desires, we might attend to our spiritual duties, both thinking and doing everything pleasing to thee.

For thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, Christ God, and unto thee do we ascribe the glory, with thy Father who is without beginning, and thy all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, at the Little Entrance, before the reading of the Gospel. Source.

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The Little Entrance

Food for the radiant soul

HE rose again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
he is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and his kingdom will have no end.

Nicene Creed.

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All night vigil, reading the Gospels

“That which is dark shall be made clear, and counsel shall go forth.” Reading the Gospel at an all-night vigil.

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AND still men find in Scripture every law which God, in words of truth, gave Moses on that journey.

If life’s interpreter, the radiant soul within the breast, will unlock with the keys of the spirit this lasting good, that which is dark shall be made clear, and counsel shall go forth. It hath the words of wisdom in its keeping, earnestly teaching the heart, that we may not lack the fellowship of God, or mercy of our Lord. He giveth us, as learned writers say, the better and more lasting joys of heaven.

Attributed to Caedmon (7th century).

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CHRIST, the life and the way, from among the dead, journeyed with Cleopas and Luke, to whom he was made known at Emmaus when he broke the bread. Their souls and hearts were aflame as he talked with them on the road and explained with the Scriptures what he had undergone. With them let us cry aloud, ‘He has been raised and has appeared to Peter!’

Resurrection Exapostilarion. Source.

St Maximus on how Christ may be transfigured in our reading of Scripture

EVEN unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.

Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:15-18

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A lady reading a Bible and holding a prayer rope

Reading and praying the Scripture. “He who through contemplation has raised his intellect to the angelic state possesses the power of the second advent.”

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(97) TO the more diligent students of Holy Scripture the Lord is clearly shown as having two forms.

The first is common and more popular, and it can be perceived by many. The text ‘We saw Him and He had no comeliness or beauty’ (Isa 53:2 LXX) refers to this form.

The second is more hidden, and it can be perceived only by a few, that is, by those who have already become like the holy apostles Peter and John, before whom the Lord was transfigured with a glory that overwhelmed the senses (cf. Matt 17:2). The text ‘Thou art fairer than the children of men’ (Ps 45:2) refers to this form.

The first of these two forms is consonant to beginners; the second to those perfected in spiritual knowledge, in so far as such perfection is possible.

The first is an image of the Lord’s initial advent, to which the literal meaning of the Gospel refers, and which by means of  suffering purifies those practicing the virtues.

The second prefigures the second and glorious advent, in which the spirit of the Gospel is apprehended, and which by means of wisdom transfigures and deifies those imbued with spiritual knowledge: because of the transfiguration of the Logos within them ‘they reflect with unveiled face the glory of the Lord’ (2 Cor 3:18).

St Maximus the Confessor

St Maximus the Confessor (+662)

(98) HE who endures suffering for the sake of virtue, without being shaken in his resolve, is inspired by the first advent of the Logos, which cleanses him from all defilement.

He who through contemplation has raised his intellect to the angelic state possesses the power of the second advent, which produces in him dispassion and incorruptibility.

St Maximus the Confessor (+662), “Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God, Written for Thalassios”, First Century, §§97-98. Translated by Sherrard, Palmer and Ware.

It is St Maximus’s feast day on August 13.

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WHEN thou wast transfigured upon Mount Tabor, O Jesus, a bright cloud, unfurled upon them like a canvas, shielded the Apostles from thy glory.

Wherefore they cast their eyes upon the earth, not able to bear the sight of the brilliance of the unapproachable glory of thy countenance, Christ God, Saviour without beginning.

O thou who at that time didst shine thy light upon them, flood our souls with light.

Kathisma at Matins on the Feast of the Transfiguration. Text at Analogion.

The Scripture always overflows with teaching that gives life

AND he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.

And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.

And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.

And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.

And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

Mark 9:1-7

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A mosaic of the Transfiguration, in the apse of the Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai

A mosaic of the Transfiguration, in the apse of the Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai

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FROM the land comes the joy of harvest, from the vineyard fruits that give food, and from the Scriptures teaching that gives life.

The land has one season for the harvest, and the vineyard has one season for the vintage, but the Scripture when read always overflows with teaching that gives life.

The land when it has been harvested lies fallow and the vineyard when the grapes have been picked is unproductive, but when Scripture is harvested the grapes of those who expound it are not lacking in it.

It is picked every day and the grape clusters of the hope in it are never exhausted.

Let us then draw near to this land and enjoy its life-giving furrows; and let us harvest from it grapes of life, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said to his Disciples,

“There are some of those standing here who will not taste death
until they see the Son of man coming in his glory”.

St Ephrem the Syrian, Sermon on the Transfiguration. Translation by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash at Anastasis.

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COME, let us go up unto the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of our God, and behold the glory of his Transfiguration, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father; in light, let light be multiplied unto us, and high above this world in the Spirit, let us sing the consubstantial Trinity in hymns, unto the ages.

At Great Vespers, for the Feast of the Transfiguration. My inexpert translation, from Analogion.